GMP plans one of its biggest projects for northern Panton

PANTON — Green Mountain Power is proposing to install and operate an $11 million, 4.99-megawatt solar farm in Panton. The project would be more than twice the size of the largest existing Addison County arrays and is also as large as any such venture GMP is proposing in Vermont.

The site proposed is 40 acres of a 327-acre parcel that is part of Panton’s largest dairy operation, the Vorsteveld Farm. The site lies in the town’s north end, between Panton Road and the Ferrisburgh town line, east of Jersey Street and west of Slang Creek.

The county’s current largest solar projects are a 2.2-megawatt (MW) array off Route 7 north of New Haven Junction and a 2.2MW solar farm in Middlebury off Route 7 behind the Blue Spruce Motel.

According to a Sept. 18 letter GMP sent to Panton officials, the Vermont Public Service Board and project neighbors, the proposed array would generate about 9.2 million kilowatts per year, enough to provide power for more than 1,200 homes.

The power generated would be sent directly into the power grid, while GMP officials said the project would also include a “micro grid” with battery storage that would provide emergency electricity to Panton town buildings during a wider power outage.

According to GMP spokesperson Kristin Carlson, the Panton Solar Project is one of several solar ventures that GMP is looking at statewide. Another 4.99MW project in Hartford would match its output, while another proposal in Williston (4.7MW) would approach it in scope. One GMP solar project with micro-grid battery storage, the 2.2MW Stafford Solar Farm in Rutland, is complete.

Carlson said GMP would like to add to its inventory of solar projects with micro grids, especially given that the company expects more damaging storms and resulting power outages due to climate change.

“We’re always looking for solar projects that make sense for the customers and make sense for the communities,” Carlson said, adding, “We really see this as part of Vermont’s energy future.”

Carlson said if all goes well — including GMP earning a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board for the project — a four-month construction process could begin next summer and wrap up at about this time next year.

GMP’s September letter states the array will produce power at a cost that “is projected to be among the lowest-priced solar options presently available to GMP, and lower than most or all solar sources that have been developed to date.”

Carlson said the nature of the land, brought to GMP’s attention by a developer, is a main reason for the cost savings.

“It is ideally sited,” she said. “The land is flat. It is close to transmission.”

GMP’s letter, written by GMP Director of Development Kirk Shields, adds that installation will not require tree removal, and only minimal grading will be needed. The site, the letter also states, has “no residences in the vicinity to the south or east.”

Shields’ letter portrays the Panton project as “in the planning stages.” It describes an array with more than 21,000, nine-foot-high, solar trackers arranged in 280 rows that would cover most of the 40 acres.

Shields also met with the Panton selectboard on Oct. 13. Selectboard Chairman John Viskup said GMP represented that the project will generate, to start with, $45,000 in new annual property tax revenue.

Viskup said the selectboard looked favorably on the proposal due to the tax boost even before considering the micro grid.   

“It’s a source of income. We’re going to take it. It’s just that simple,” Viskup said.

He added that he could not speak for the town’s planning commission, but does not believe they would object to the site or the concept. Viskup said that farm co-owner Hans Vorsteveld told the selectboard the acreage in question is not prime agricultural land.

“It isn’t wetlands, but it is sort of a wet area, according to Hans,” Viskup said.

According to Shields’ letter, “The project will adhere to all wetlands regulations,” and although there are wetlands in the area, “all of them are located well away from the proposed locations of the panel racks.”

Shields also estimated the project’s productive life will range from 25 to 35 years, and the company will remove the panels and restore the site when the array is no longer useful.

In the meantime, Shields wrote, the project will help GMP “meet its long-term needs for energy and capacity” and “meet its obligations under Vermont’s new Renewable Energy Standard framework.”

The Addison County Regional Planning Commission, which is helping towns deal with the spread of sometimes unpopular solar arrays, also received Shields’ letter. The commission has not yet had a chance to sit down with GMP officials and learn more, according to executive director Adam Lougee.

“We just recently received their 45-day notice and an offer to meet, which we will take them up on shortly,” Lougee said.

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